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George S.

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George S. Kaufman

Kaufman c.1915


George Simon Kaufman

November 16, 1889
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA


June 2, 1961 (aged 71)

New York City, New York


Beatrice Bakrow (19171945)

Leueen MacGrath (19491957)

Debut works

Some One in the House (1918)

Someone Must Pay (1919)

Notable work(s)

Of Thee I Sing
You Can't Take It With You

Works with

Marc Connelly

Edna Ferber
George Gershwin
Ira Gershwin
Moss Hart
Morrie Ryskind

Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1932 and 1937)

Tony Award Best Director (1951)

George Simon Kaufman (November 16, 1889 June 2, 1961) was an

American playwright, theatre director andproducer, humorist, and drama critic. In addition to
comedies and political satire, he wrote several musicals, notably for the Marx Brothers. One
play and one musical that he wrote won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama: You Can't Take It With
You(1937, with Moss Hart), and Of Thee I Sing (1932, with Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin).
He also won the Tony Award as a Director, for the musical Guys and Dolls.

1 Biography

1.1 Early years

1.2 Career

1.2.1 Theatre

1.2.2 Hollywood and television

1.2.3 Bridge
1.3 Personal life

2 Film portrayal

3 References

4 External links

Early years[edit]
Born to a Jewish family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he graduated from high school in 1907
and "tried law school for three months" but grew disenchanted and took on a series of odd
jobs, including "selling hatbands".[1] Kaufman then began his career as a journalist and drama

critic; he was the drama editor for The New York Times from 1917 through 1930.[1]Kaufman
took his editorial responsibilities very seriously. According to legend, on one occasion a press
agent asked: "How do I get our leading lady's name in the Times?" Kaufman: "Shoot her."[2]

Worked with Moss Hart in 1930 on the Broadway hit "Once in a Lifetime." Also wrote "You
Can't Take it With You" and "The Man Who Came to Dinner" with Hart.
Kaufman's Broadway debut was September 4, 1918 at the Knickerbocker Theatre, with the
premiere of the melodramaSomeone in the House.[3][4] He coauthored the play with Walter C.
Percival, based on a magazine story written by Larry Evans.[5] The play opened on Broadway
(running for only 32 performances) during that year's serious flu epidemic, when people were
being advised to avoid crowds. With "dour glee", Kaufman suggested that the best way to
avoid crowds in New York City was to attend his play.[6]
In every Broadway season from 1921 through 1958, there was a play written or directed by
Kaufman. Since Kaufman's death in 1961,[6] there have been revivals of his work on Broadway
in the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, the 2000s and the 2010s.[4] Kaufman wrote only one play
alone, The Butter and Egg Man in 1925.[7] With Marc Connelly, he wrote Merton of the
Movies, Dulcy, and Beggar on Horseback; with Ring Lardner he wrote June Moon; with Edna
Ferber he wrote The Royal Family,Dinner at Eight, and Stage Door; with John P. Marquand he
wrote a stage adaptation of Marquand's novel The Late George Apley; and with Howard
Teichmann he wrote The Solid Gold Cadillac. According to his biography on PBS, "he wrote
some of the American theater's most enduring comedies" with Moss Hart.[8] Their work
includes Once in a Lifetime (in which he also performed), Merrily We Roll Along, The Man Who
Came to Dinner and You Can't Take It With You, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.[9]
For a period, Kaufman lived at 158 West 58th Street in New York City. The building later would
be the setting for Stage Door.[10] It is now the Park Savoy Hotel and for many years was
considered a single room occupancy hotel.[11]
Musical theatre
Despite his claim that he knew nothing about music and hated it in the theatre, Kaufman
collaborated on many musical theatre projects. His most successful of such efforts include two
Broadway shows crafted for the Marx Brothers, The Cocoanuts, written with Irving Berlin,
and Animal Crackers, written with Morrie Ryskind, Bert Kalmar, and Harry Ruby. According to
Charlotte Chandler, "By the time Animal Crackers opened ... the Marx Brothers were becoming
famous enough to interest Hollywood. Paramount signed them to a contract". [12] Kaufman was
one of the writers who excelled in writing intelligent nonsense for Groucho Marx, a process that
was collaborative, given Groucho's skills at expanding upon the scripted material. Though the
Marx Brothers were notoriously critical of their writers, Groucho and Harpo Marx expressed
admiration and gratitude towards Kaufman. Dick Cavett, introducing Groucho onstage
at Carnegie Hall in 1972, told the audience that Groucho considered Kaufman to be "his god".
While The Cocoanuts was being developed in Atlantic City, Irving Berlin was hugely
enthusiastic about a song he had written for the show. Kaufman was less enthusiastic, and
refused to rework the libretto to include this number. The discarded song was "Always",
ultimately a huge hit for Berlin, recorded by many popular performers. According to Laurence
Bergreen, "Kaufman's lack of enthusiasm caused Irving to lose confidence in the song, and
'Always' was deleted from the score ofThe Cocoanuts though not from its creators
memory. ... Kaufman, a confirmed misogynist, had had no use for the song in The
Cocoanuts but his disapproval did not deter Berlin from saving it for a more important

occasion."[13] The Cocoanuts would remain Irving Berlin's only Broadway musical until his last
one, Mr. President that did not include at least one eventual hit song.
Humor derived from political situations was of particular interest to Kaufman. He collaborated
on the hit musical Of Thee I Sing, which won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize, the first musical so
honored,[9] and its sequel Let 'Em Eat Cake, as well as one troubled but eventually successful
satire that had several incarnations, Strike Up the Band. Working with Kaufman on these
ventures were Ryskind, George Gershwin, and Ira Gershwin. Also, Kaufman, with Moss Hart,
wrote the book to I'd Rather Be Right, a musical starring George M. Cohan as Franklin Delano
Roosevelt (the U.S. President at the time), with songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.
He also co-wrote the 1935 comedy-drama First Lady. In 1945, Kaufman adapted H.M.S.
Pinafore into Hollywood Pinafore.
Kaufman also contributed to major New York revues, including The Band Wagon (which shared
songs but not plot with the 1953 film version) with Arthur Schwartz andHoward Dietz. His often
anthologized sketch "The Still Alarm" from the revue The Little Show lasted long after the show
closed. Another well-known sketch of his is "If Men Played Cards As Women Do." There have
also been musicals based on Kaufman properties, such as the 1981 musical version of Merrily
We Roll Along, adapted by George Furth and Stephen Sondheim.[14] The
musical Sherry! (1967) was based on his play The Man Who Came to Dinner.[15]
Directing and producing
Kaufman directed the original or revival stage productions of many plays and musicals,
including:The Front Page by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (1928), Of Thee I Sing (1931
and 1952), Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937), My Sister Eileen by Joseph
Fields and Jerome Chodorov (1940), Hollywood Pinafore (1945), The Next Half
Hour (1945), Park Avenue (1946, also co-wrote the book), Town House (1948), Bravo! (1948,
also co-wrote the script), Metropole (1949), the Frank Loessermusical Guys and Dolls, for
which he won the 1951 Best Director Tony Award, The Enchanted (1950), The Small
Hours (1951, also co-wrote the script), Fancy Meeting You Again (1952, also co-wrote the
script), The Solid Gold Cadillac (1953, also co-wrote the script), and Romanoff and
Juliet by Peter Ustinov (1957).[4]
Kaufman produced many of his own plays as well as those of other writers. For a short time,
approximately from 1940 to circa 1946, Kaufman, with Moss Hart and Max Gordon, owned and
operated the Lyceum Theatre.[16]
Hollywood and television[edit]
Many of Kaufman's plays were adapted into Hollywood films. Among the more well-received
were Dinner At Eight, Stage Door (almost completely rewritten for the film version) and You
Can't Take It With You, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1938. He also occasionally wrote
directly for the movies, most significantly the screenplay for A Night at the Opera for the Marx
Brothers. His only credit as a film director was The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947) starring
William Powell.
He appeared as a panelist on the 1949-1954 CBS television series show This Is Show
Business.[17][18] On the December 21, 1952, Christmas episode of This Is Show Business that
was telecast live, the Jewish Kaufman made a controversial statement amid public outcry:
"Let's make this one program on which no one sings 'Silent Night'".[19] The networks banned
him for more than a year before allowing him to appear again. [19]
Kaufman was a prominent player of bridge, probably both auction bridge and contract
bridge. The New Yorker published many of his humorous items about the card game; at least
some have been reprinted more than once, including:

"Kibitzers' Revolt"[when?] and the suggestion that bridge clubs should post notice whether
the NorthSouth or the EastWest pairs are holding good cards.[20]

Kaufman was notoriously impatient with poor players. One such partner asked
permission to use the men's room, according to legend, and Kaufman replied: "Gladly. For
the first time today I'll know what you have in your hand." [20][21]

On sitting South: (1) "No matter who writes the books or articles, South holds the most
terrific cards I ever saw. There is a lucky fellow if ever I saw one." [22] (2)Oswald
Jacoby reported a deal that Kaufman played marvelously in 1952, after which he cracked,
"I'd rather sit South than be the President."[20]

On coffeehousing, "I'd like a review of the bidding with all the original inflections." [23]

His first wife Beatrice Bakrow Kaufman was also an avid bridge player, and an occasional
poker player with Algonquin men, who wrote at least one New Yorker article on bridge herself,
in 1928.[24]

Personal life[edit]
In the 1920s, Kaufman was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a circle of writers and
show business people. From the 1920s through the 1950s, Kaufman was as well known for his
personality as he was for his writing.[citation needed] In the Moss Hart autobiography Act One, Hart
portrayed Kaufman as a morose and intimidating figure, uncomfortable with any expressions of
affection between human beingsin life or on the page. Hart writes that Max Siegel said:
"Maybe I should have warned you. Mr Kaufman hates any kind of sentimentality-can't stand
it!"[25] This perspective, along with a number of taciturn observations made by Kaufman himself,
led to a simplistic but commonly held belief that Hart was the emotional soul of the creative
team while Kaufman was a misanthropic writer of punchlines. Kaufman preferred never to
leave Manhattan. He once said: "I never want to go any place where I can't get back to
Broadway and 44th by midnight."[26]
Although Kaufman lived in the public eye alongside celebrities and journalists, he was a
tireless worker, dedicated to the writing and rehearsal processes.[citation needed]He was particularly
revered within the business as a "play doctor." Late in his life he managed to trade upon his
long-developed persona by appearing as a television wag. Of one unsuccessful comedy he
wrote,[specify] "There was laughter at the back of the theatre, leading to the belief that someone
was telling jokes back there." Even though he was a sometime satirist, he remarked that
"Satire is what closes on Saturday night." Much of Kaufman's fame occurred due to his
mastery of sharp lines such as these, generally referred to in the press as "wise cracks."
However, Kaufman was more than a writer of gags. He created scripts that revealed a mastery
of dramatic structure; his characters were likable and theatrically credible.
Called "Public Lover Number One", according to The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, he
"dated some of the most beautiful women on Broadway".[27] Kaufman found himself in the
center of a scandal in 1936 when, in the midst of a child custody suit, the former husband of
actress Mary Astor threatened to publish one of Astor's diaries purportedly containing
extremely explicit details of an affair between Kaufman and the actress.[27] The diary was
eventually destroyed unread by the courts in 1952, but details of the supposed contents were
published in Confidential magazine, Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger, and various other
scandal sheets. Most recently, a "filthy" portion of it was published in New York magazine.
Kaufman had an affair with actress Natalie Schafer during the 1940s.[29] (Schafer played
"Mrs. Lovey Howell" on the TV sitcom Gilligan's Island.)

Kaufman was married to Beatrice Bakrow from March 15, 1917, until her death on October 6,
1945.[24][30][31] They had one daughter, Anne Kaufman (Booth).[24] Four years later, he married
actress Leueen MacGrath on May 26, 1949,[32][33] with whom he collaborated on a number of
plays before their divorce in August 1957.[34]Kaufman died in New York City on June 2, 1961, at
the age of 71.[34] His granddaughter, Beatrice Colen, was an actress who had recurring
appearances on bothHappy Days and Wonder Woman.[35]
In 1979, Donald Oliver compiled and edited a collection of Kaufman's humorous pieces, with a
foreword by Dick Cavett.[36]

Film portrayal[edit]
Kaufman was portrayed by the actor David Thornton in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the
Vicious Circle[37] and by Jason Robards in the 1963 film Act One.


^ Jump up to:a b Wallace, Irving, Amy Wallace, David Wallechinsky and Sylvia Wallace
(2008). The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People. Feral House, ISBN 1-932595-29-5, p. 173.


Jump up^ Herrmann, Dorothy (1982). With Malice Toward All. New York: G. P.
Putnam's Sons. p. 58.


Jump up^ "The September Line-up". The New York Times. August 25, 1918.
Retrieved 2010-11-13. (abstract)(subscription required)


^ Jump up to:a b c "George S. Kaufman". Internet Broadway Database (

Retrieved 2010-11-13.


Jump up^ White, Matthew, Jr. (November 1918). "The Stage". Munsey's
Magazine (New York: F.A. Munsey & Co.) LXV (2): 356371. Retrieved2011-10-20.


^ Jump up to:a b "Broadway: One Man's Mede". TIME. June 9, 1961. Retrieved 2010-1113.


Jump up^ Londr, Felicia Hardison (2005). Words at Play:Creative Writing and
Dramaturgy. SIU Press,ISBN 0-8093-2679-5, p. 47.


Jump up^ Larkin, Colin, ed. (2004). "Stars Over Broadway: Biography, Excerpted from
the Encyclopedia of Popular Music". Retrieved 2010-11-13.


^ Jump up to:a b "The Pulitzer Prizes, Drama". Retrieved 2011-03-06.


Jump up^ Teichmann, Howard (1972). George S. Kaufman; An Intimate Portrait. New
York: Atheneum.OCLC 400765.


Jump up^ Okane, Laurence (1965-01-24). "Adjunct Garages Irk City Planners;
Loophole in Zoning Permits All Comers to Use Space". The New York Times. Retrieved 200810-13. (abstract) (subscription required)


Jump up^ Chandler, Charlotte (2007). Hello, I Must Be Going: Groucho and His
Friends, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 1-4165-6521-3.


Jump up^ Bergreen, Laurence (1996). As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin,
Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-80675-4, pp. 249, 264.


Jump up^ Rich, Frank (November 17, 1981). "Stage: A New Sondheim, Merrily We
Roll Along". The New York Times.


Jump up^ "Sherry!". Internet Broadway Database ( Retrieved 2010-11-13.


Jump up^ Bloom, Ken (2007). "Lyceum Theatre". The Routledge Guide To Broadway,
CRC Press, ISBN 0-415-97380-5, p. 158.


Jump up^ "This Is Show Business". Internet Movie Database ( Retrieved


Jump up^ "Radio: The Troubled Air". TIME, January 12, 1953.


^ Jump up to:a b McNeil, Alex . Total Television, p. 832.


^ Jump up to:a b c "ACBL Bridge Beat #121: George Kaufman". Not Just the ACBL Story
but History. November 5, 2012. American Contract Bridge League (75th Anniversary
contributions by anonymous members?). Retrieved 2014-06-13.


Jump up^ Hall, Donald, ed. (1981). The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes.
New York: Oxford. p. 234.


Jump up^ Johnson, Jared (1989). Classic Bridge Quotes. Louisville, KY: Devyn Press
Inc. p. 61. ISBN 0-910791-66-X.


Jump up^ Johnson, Jared (1989). Classic Bridge Quotes. Louisville, KY: Devyn Press
Inc. p. 41. ISBN 0-910791-66-X.


^ Jump up to:a b c Galchinsky, Michael (March 1, 2009). "Beatrice Kaufman 1895

1945". Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Jewish Women's Archive
( Retrieved 2014-06-13.


Jump up^ Hart, Moss (1989). Act one: an autobiography. Macmillan, ISBN 0-31203272-2, p. 274.


Jump up^ Meryman, Richard (1978). Mank: The Wit, World, and Life of Herman
Mankiewicz. New York: William Morrow. p. 100.



^ Jump up to:a b Wallace 2008, p. 174.

Jump up^ "Mary Astor Blushes When Her Filthy Diary Leaks". New York: 44. April 9,
2012. Retrieved2012-04-11.
Jump up^ Brozan, Nadine (February 13, 1995)."Chronicle". The New York Times.


Jump up^ "Beatrice Kaufman, Story Editor, Dies". The New York Times, October 7,
1945, p. 44.


Jump up^ "BEATRICE KAUFMAN, STORY EDITOR, DIES; Wife of Noted Playwright
Did Much Literary Work Herself Wrote for Magazines". The New York Times, October 7, 1945.
(abstract) (subscription required)


Jump up^ "George S. Kaufman Weds". The New York Times, May 27, 1949, p. 25.
Quote: "George S. Kaufman and Leueen MacGrath, English actress, were married today at the
playwright's Bucks County home, Barley Sheaf Farm".


Jump up^ "GEORGE S. KAUFMAN WEDS; Playwright and Leueen M Grath, Actress,
Marry at His Farm". The New York Times, May 27, 1949. (abstract)(subscription required)


^ Jump up to:a b "George S. Kaufman Dies at 71; Shared 2 Pulitzers for Drama; Cited
for Of Thee I Sing and You Can't Take It With You Also Top Director George S. Kaufman Dies
at 71; Shared 2 Pulitzers for Drama", The New York Times, June 3, 1961, p. 1.
(abstract) (subscription required)


Jump up^ Beatrice Colen profile. Wonderland: The Ultimate Lynda Carter Site
( Retrieved 2014-06-13.


Jump up^ Kaufman, George S. (Donald Oliver, compiler/editor) (1979). By George: A

Kaufman Collection. New York: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-11101-0.


Jump up^ "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle". Internet Movie Database (

External links[edit]
Biography portal
Pittsburgh portal
Theater portal

George S. Kaufman at the Internet Broadway Database

George S. Kaufman at Internet Off-Broadway Database

George S. Kaufman at Find a Grave

George S. Kaufman at the Internet Movie Database

George S. Kaufman Papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

George S. Kaufman Papers at the Library of Congress

George S.

George S. Kaufman at, The Playwrights Database

Dick Cavett (October 8, 2010). "The Titan and the Pfc". Opinionator. The New York
Times. (a tribute to Kaufman)

George S. Kaufman at Library of Congress Authorities, with 158 catalog records


George Kaufman

Pulitzer Prize for Drama (19261950)


Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (19501975)


The Marx Brothers


Contract bridge articles

Authority control

VIAF: 32098387
LCCN: n79063710
ISNI: 0000 0001 1023 8045
GND: 118776886
SUDOC: 027325938
BNF: cb12478440v(data)

1889 births

1961 deaths

American dramatists and playwrights

American humorists

American theater critics

American theatre managers and producers

American bridge players

Donaldson Award winners

Jewish bridge players

Bridge writers

Pulitzer Prize for Drama winners

Writers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Jewish American dramatists and playwrights